Make this New Year’s resolution for 2014: Use your camera to strengthen your community
Photovoice is a community based photography project bringing groups of people together to document a community or an issue from their unique point of view. Groups of youth can do a project together as a way to advocate for change from a youth perspective.
2013 may have been marked the pinnacle of the “selfie,” which Oxford Dictionary named their “2013 Word of the Year.” For youth looking to use their camera for something other than creating a self-portrait, committing to conducting a Photovoice Project might just be the perfect resolution. A Photovoice Project brings together a group of people who take photographs that document strengths and weaknesses in their school, neighborhood or community. After taking photographs, participants engage in individual reflection and group discussion about the resulting photos. According to Michigan State University Extenison, a central part of the reflection and discussion stage of the project is to understand the multiple influences that contribute to the photographers’ subject matter and why they are defined as strengths or weaknesses. The final step of the project is presenting photographs to the public and decision-makers. The community can then work to address problems and celebrate successes that are captured in photographs and in the ideas generated during the reflection and discussion phase of the project.
Photovoice was developed in the early 1990s by Caroline Wang and Mary Ann Burris. They designed it as a way for disadvantaged people to share their perspectives and needs with the public and policy makers. The ideas generated through Photovoice could be used to make changes that would improve the lives of the photographers and disadvantaged groups. Photovoice projects involving youth are a powerful way for young people, who often feel they have less power than adults, to raise their voice on issues that matter to youth and to influence adults to help make changes in schools, neighborhoods and communities that will be of benefit them.
As defined by Caroline Wang, Photovoice has three main goals: To enable people to
- Record and reflect their personal and community strengths and concerns.
- Promote critical dialogue and knowledge about personal and community issues through group discussion of photographs
- To reach policymakers
Conducting a successful Photovoice project takes time and effort. For those not experienced in a prior Photovoice project, a good place to start is to explore some examples of Photovoice projects that have been conducted with youth in the past. There are a variety of videos on YouTube of youth photovoice projects, including one highlighting teens from Detroit documenting public health concerns in their community, one highlighting the Photovoice Hamilton Youth Project in Ontario, Canada and another with inner-city elementary aged children in Toronto. After some introductory exploration of Photovoice projects, it’s helpful to do some further research on the topic. A comprehensive resource to dive deeper into the subject is available at the Photovoice section of the community tool box, from the University of Kansas.
Educational introductory sessions on Photovoice will be offered through programs sponsored by Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development in 2014. These will include the Michigan 4-H Teen Leadership and Community Change Conference (January 25-26, 2014 in Tustin, Mich.) and the Michigan 4-H Exploration Days program (June 18-20, 2014 in East Lansing, Mich.). After doing some research and reading on the topic, and perhaps attending one of these trainings, all that’s left to do is to find or form a group of youth interested in sharing their ideas and perspective on how their school, neighborhood or community could be better and getting started with this exciting project!